The translator meets himself emerging from his lover’s bedroom. So much for fidelity, he thinks.
Je est un autre, said the translator. Try next door.
The translator was looking down his own throat. Come out, come out, wherever you are! he pleaded.
The translator’s wardrobe was full of other people’s shirts. At least they fitted him.
The translator stood in front of the window pretending to be transparent.
But if everything is potentially everything else, complained the translator, what am I doing here?
The translator was counting his chickens, none of them hatched but already squabbling.
The translator wanders into Babel and books himself into a cupboard.
Two languages on the same floor of Babel. – I was here first. – I’m not talking to you. – Keep the music down. – You call that music?
But the gardens of Babel? Who talks about them? Who planted them? Who tended them? cried the translator in his cups, slurring his words.
The blind translator had developed his sense of smell to an exquisite pitch. He could read books the way a dog reads lampposts.
The blind translator felt his way through the book, knocking whole sentences over. He’d have to build it all again by touch.
A poet and a translator walk into a bar. Give me a beer, says the poet. I suppose you’d better give him a beer, says the translator.
The translator was admiring his dead poets. Not that I am alive myself, he remarked, but at least I keep moving.
Several lungs, several breaths, several sets of teeth, several lips: we are several, says the translator. We are several, echoes the poet.
The Lamentations of the Translator, pondered the translator. Dirge? Plaint? Interpreter? Let’s just call it The Giraffe’s Birthday.
The translator was tracking the bear but kept wondering why the bear was wearing his shoes. Bears are thieves, he muttered.
Two translators meet each other, examine their teeth. Whose teeth are those? they ask.
To meet a roomful of translators is like meeting a charnel house of saints, every one a St Teresa, said the doctor.
They lined up the translators and shot them. Which one was the poet? asked the soldier. Fourth one along. Maybe fifth. Not that it matters.
The translator lay dead but they buried someone else. Then they brought in someone else.
The translator’s arthritis was killing him. The dead lay round the room like a compound of his own glittering bones.
We are legion, says the devil. We are the foreign legion, answers the translator.
Pentecost, shmentecost, shrugged the translator. Just give me the crib.
George Szirtes, poet, born in Budapest in 1948 but living in England since 1956, started translating from Hungarian in the 1980s. His sixteen or so books of poems have won various prizes including the T S Eliot Prize for which his latest book, Bad Machine (2013) is also currently shortlisted. He has translated many books of poetry and fiction from Hungarian, most recently László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango which received the Best Translated Book Award in the US. The act of translation is, he thinks, bound to involve fidelity, ambiguity, confusion and betrayal.
This piece was selected for inclusion in the January 2014 Translation Issue by Daniel Medin, a contributing editor of The White Review. He helps direct the Center for Writers and Translators at the American University of Paris, and is Associate Series Editor of The Cahiers Series.